Polar Biology

, Volume 38, Issue 9, pp 1335–1343 | Cite as

Mercury accumulation in gentoo penguins Pygoscelis papua: spatial, temporal and sexual intraspecific variations

  • Sara PedroEmail author
  • José C. Xavier
  • Sílvia Tavares
  • Phil N. Trathan
  • Norman Ratcliffe
  • Vitor H. Paiva
  • Renata Medeiros
  • Rui P. Vieira
  • Filipe R. Ceia
  • Eduarda Pereira
  • Miguel A. Pardal
Original Paper


Mercury emissions have increased over the past decades affecting even remote areas such as Antarctica. As gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) breed on many of the islands surrounding Antarctica, foraging close to their colonies, their mercury load should reflect concentrations in the region. We therefore evaluated mercury concentrations in adult gentoo penguin feathers at Bird Island, South Georgia. We found no significant differences in mercury levels between 2009 and 2010 (mean ± SD 0.97 ± 0.67 mg kg−1, mean ± SD 1.13 ± 0.62 mg kg−1, respectively). Stable nitrogen isotope values in feathers indicated that feeding habits had a stronger influence on male mercury concentrations, whereas stable carbon isotope values indicated that foraging habitat had a stronger influence on females. Though no temporal variation in levels of mercury in gentoo penguin feathers was observed, spatial differences were evident when compared with previous studies. Our results could have implications for other animals higher in the food web that prey upon gentoo penguins, with potential consequential effects on their reproduction and development.


Mercury Trophic level Stable isotopes Antarctica 



This work contributes to the BAS Ecosystems programme. The work was sponsored by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT; Portugal) under the project POLAR, within the Portuguese Polar Program PROPOLAR, and a postdoctoral grant to Filipe R. Ceia (SFRH/BPD/95372/2013), and part of the international programs ICED (Integrating climate and ecosystem dynamics of the Southern Ocean) and SCAR-AnT-ERA (Antarctic Thresholds, ecosystem resilience and adaptation of the Scientific committee for Antarctic Research) and of the SCAR EGBAMM (expert group on Birds and Antarctic marine mammals of SCAR).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara Pedro
    • 1
    Email author
  • José C. Xavier
    • 2
    • 3
  • Sílvia Tavares
    • 1
  • Phil N. Trathan
    • 3
  • Norman Ratcliffe
    • 3
  • Vitor H. Paiva
    • 2
  • Renata Medeiros
    • 4
  • Rui P. Vieira
    • 2
    • 6
    • 7
  • Filipe R. Ceia
    • 2
  • Eduarda Pereira
    • 5
  • Miguel A. Pardal
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Life Sciences, Centre of Functional EcologyUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  2. 2.Department of Life Sciences, Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre (MARE)University of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  3. 3.British Antarctic SurveyNERCCambridgeUK
  4. 4.Cardiff School of BiosciencesCardiff UniversityCardiff, South GlamorganWales, UK
  5. 5.Department of Chemistry, Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies (CESAM)University of AveiroAveiroPortugal
  6. 6.Department of BiologyUniversity of AveiroAveiroPortugal
  7. 7.Ocean and Earth ScienceNational Oceanography Centre, SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

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